Blog: HR failures: Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley

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HR failures: Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley

This Emmy nominated HBO series may have some valuable HR lessons.
HR failures: Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is a much-loved show that has hooked on generations with its spot-on satire on the startup life. The Emmy-nominated HBO series is one of the most popular shows that has also garnered critical acclaim for its depiction of the vicissitudes of startup ‘Pied Piper’ and its competitor ‘Hooli’. The witty satire chronicles some of the real issues in Silicon Valley. Issues such as office politics hiring shortages deeply felt rivalries and technological innovations. But beyond its reputation as a satire, Silicon Valley also depicts several human resources fails which are a source of valuable insights.

So, here are a few lessons to learn from the show’s big HR mishaps:

  1. Treat your departing employees with respect

    In one episode, the CEO of Hooli Gavin Belson impulsively fires an entire division of the company at a press conference. Some of the employees were in the audience. They learn about their job loss in public.  This was a definite HR failure but what made it worse was Belson’s inconsiderate management style and heartless behavior. The lesson here is the importance of managing employee terminations with a professional approach. Once the decision is made to close a unit, HR should come up with a separation plan which comprises of the due notice period, severance package, and they should a one-to-one meeting that is scheduled to counsel and guide them about the life-changing event. When companies treat their separating employees with fairness and respect it reflects well on the organization’s productivity and retention.

  2. Workplace harassment is not okay

    Pied Piper’s coders Gilfoyle and Dinesh love to banter with each other, but Gilfoyle crosses the line by commenting on Dinesh’s lineage. Discrimination on the basis of someone’s race and origin is against workplace laws. This type of bullying or discriminatory behavior is prohibited. If Dinesh were to complain about the unlawful harassment, then the company ‘Pied Piper’ would be liable, so would Gilfoyle. Employers are obliged towards their employees to provide a fun and fair work environment to their employees. 

  3. Ethical behavior is a must

    In one of the episodes, Hooli CEO Gavin Belson demands that his employees compromise on the neutrality of the search engine’s algorithm in order to avoid bad press. This is a major breach of the principles of ethical behavior and it violates the trust of consumers in the product. From an HR perspective, this is a huge failure as it could lead to legal troubles on the pretext of fraudulent behavior or breach of ethics. It may land the corporate leader in jail or cost the company millions in lawsuits, besides resulting in loss of company’s brand value. That’s why senior leadership have the onus of setting the right culture of ethical behavior and developing standards for ethical workplace conduct. 

  4. Drugs and alcohol are a strict no 

    Pied Piper’s early investor Erlich Bachman has a habit of smoking weed and is frequently seen in office meetings under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is an HR failure as allowing illegal drug use is not amenable to workplace standards. It is obligatory for employees to provide a safe working environment to their workforce. Violators should face disciplinary action that may lead to termination too. 


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